becoming brothers


They’re discovering each other, finally.

Oh, they bumped into each other for well over a year. There were the Months of Glaring At the Loud Newborn followed by the Months of Stealing Everything from The Helpless Baby. The Months of “Did-You-Hit-Your-Brother-No-It-Was-An-Accident” followed by the months of “Mama-Make-Him-Not-Play-With-That-Toy-I-Need-It-Right-Now!”

Months full of angry slaps and indignant wails and gritted teeth and time outs. Months when I rolled my eyes at the Facebook feed of perfect photos of doting siblings gazing adoringly at new babies, months when I muttered “mmm…must be nice…” while fellow mothers rhapsodized about how beautifully their newly-two were getting along.

I’d look at my boys and wonder when – or if – the proverbial love would ever be lost between them.

And then, of course, it started right under my nose when I wasn’t looking.

Suddenly it was the baby’s second winter and we were stuck indoors for January’s cruel string of sub-zero days and I glanced up from my laundry pile in the basement to make sure no one was bleeding and I realized they were playing together. Interacting instead of ignoring, sharing instead of stealing, playing instead of pushing.

They jumped together on the trampoline, one up and the other down, then both bopped in time together, sparkling eyes on two grinning faces as they popped like carnival whack-a-moles. “Mama! We’re bouncing!” called the oldest; “Up! Up!” echoed the youngest as he fell over, chuckling.

Now they’re full of giggles and goofy words and silly games. Sure, they still steal toys and wail indignantly and hit in frustration. But they also laugh their heads off together. And I can’t help but laugh with them.

I love watching them become brothers.

. . .

Back when I was reading all those books about labor and delivery for the first time, I never realized I’d be birthing more than a baby.

I was so focused on my impending motherhood, on how this scrawny, slippery newborn was going to subvert the world as I knew it, that I neglected to realize how many other lives were going to change, too. How when I brought that baby into the world, I would also be birthing a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin – so many relationships born in that same instant.

And when I prepared to birth my second, I was equally clueless about the sea change that a sibling would bring. Sure, I knew it would shift our family dynamic, scramble the focus of attention, stretch the scope of love and patience that each day would demand.

But I never realized how long it would take my two to start growing into brotherhood.

By definition it happened in an instant, but by practice it stumbled slowly. Maybe every tried-and-true relationship is like that, fumbling, faltering through fits and starts, but plodding on, persistently, even painfully.

. . .

Most of us will end up knowing our siblings longer than anyone else. Longer than our parents, longer than our spouses, longer than our own children. “Your oldest friend,” my mother used to remind us as we glared at each other across the dinner table or banged shoulders in a huff on the way out the door to school, likely muttering to ourselves about not getting stuck with that loser as our oldest friend.

And now? Of course I see it’s true. That despite the twists and turns that our lives are taking, often away from each other, whether geographically or emotionally, my siblings remain stubbornly close. We share much of the same history, the same relationships, the same sense of humor. We can’t help but come back to each other every so often, to laugh and remember how surprisingly similar we remain despite our deep differences.

Maybe this is what it means to become brothers: to go through seasons of ignoring or hating or fighting or shunning or shoving, but to come back to the stubborn truth that you’re stuck with each other. They’re not going anywhere and neither are you, and if you’re going to share the same roof or parents or piles of toys, you better learn how to get along.

And sometimes even laugh your head off, too.

7 thoughts on “becoming brothers

  1. i love it!!! i am by far the coolest of the oldest friends my siblings have, but, we are the only ones that have the shared experience of knowing what it means to grow up with our parents!

  2. I’m an only child and yet, so much of this resonates. I love what you say about the persistence of relationships and how they begin and falter and stutter to life again. True. Very true.

    And giving birth to more than your own baby…giving birth to the relationships. That has been, for me, the most striking thing about the babies that have come into my world in recent years. The children of friends and family members are so very dear to me. Over the past eighteen months, I’ve been amazed at how much a certain little girl has woven her way into my heart. I know there was a time before her, as there was time before my cousins, but I can’t imagine anymore what life was like without these little children. I am so grateful to the parents who have brought these children into being. Despite the occasional messy days and frustrating moments and annoying whines, these kids are gift and I feel so blessed to share this world with them for a time.

  3. I read this while still in bed this morning, then got up and did a “Happy Monday” dance for my daughter. (Translation: Your words so inspired joy and hope and movement in my limbs.)

    When I worked to recount the beauty of your prose to my husband, I started crying. This passage is what tripped me up:

    “Suddenly it was the baby’s second winter and we were stuck indoors for January’s cruel string of sub-zero days and I glanced up from my laundry pile in the basement to make sure no one was bleeding and I realized they were playing together.”

    Tears in my eyes, laughing at myself, Francois looked at me said, “Where did you come from?” He smiled, hugged me, and then we started to slow dance in front of the bathroom sink.

    You remind me of how fiercely I love being a big sister for five other siblings, and why I desire so deeply to create a larger family for my firstborn.

    Thank you.

  4. Oh, this is so, so rich. Thank you. My sister and I just lost our father, and we were the two in the room as he passed to the next life. We held hands, and we felt the depth of the loss…as sisters. And I am so, so grateful that she stayed, when earlier in the night, the plan was that she would leave. I told her I felt conflicted about that, that I felt she should stay, and in the end, she agreed. And it made all the difference that my big sister was there with me. See, now you have me in tears. But you made me laugh too. 🙂 I have told my daughters many times, “Someday you will be the best of friends. Just wait…” They don’t believe me, but I know now that it’s true.

  5. I love this post! As we think about trying for kid #2, I’ve been thinking a lot about this dynamic. Our son has a little best frienemy in daycare that is a neat picture of brotherhood. They do EVERYTHING together, bad and good. I want that for him in a sibling, but this post is a good reminder of how long that will take, yet how worth it in the end.

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